MONSANTO LITIGATION SETTLEMENT PRESS RELEASE
Contacts: Cassandra Roberts
Grover G. Hankins
April 25, 2001. After two weeks of trial, settlement was reached in a toxic exposure lawsuit between Monsanto Company’s chemical spin-off Solutia, and a Group of 1500 Anniston, Alabama plaintiffs in the federal District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The Honorable Inge Johnson has approved the terms of the settlement, which concludes nearly six years of litigation. In monetary terms, the settlement is worth $42,800,000 dollars. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are members of the Sweet Valley/Cobb Town Environmental Task Force who lived on or near the fence line of a chemical company that at the time was called Monsanto. Sweet Valley/Cobb Town is a largely African-American and low-income white community in Anniston, Alabama. Residents in the community formed the Sweet Valley/Cobb Town Task Force because they felt that the contamination of their neighborhood was the result of environmental injustice.
Cassandra Roberts, president of the Task Force said, “No amount of money can repair the damage caused by exposure of generations to toxic chemicals, but we are happy to get some compensation.” “The key to dealing with corporate offenders is organization, determination and the willingness to give your time, and energy to seek justice for those who suffered many years of injustice,” she said. Roberts further stated, “With the help of Attorney Grover Hankins of Houston, Texas, Connie Tucker of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice and the African American Environmental Justice Action Network we were able to strengthen our organization so we could get our people relocated away from the chemicals, demand clean-up and pursue legal action.” Grover Hankins, one of the trial team members and a nationally known environmental justice advocate said, “One of the most exhilarating experiences for a lawyer is to help communities of color and poor communities in their quest for justice.”
The gravamen of the plaintiffs’ claims was that they had suffered emotional distress, fear and mental anxiety, and will be required to undergo periodic medical evaluations and tests as a result of their exposure to poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a mixture of chemicals that are clear to yellow oily liquids or solids and are used as insulating fluids for electrical systems. Monsanto was the only company that produced PCBs in the country and the Anniston plant was the first of only two in the country. PCBs were outlawed in 1978. Exposure pathways maybe through the air, water or soil and can affect human beings simply through breathing and by passing through skin. The effects of exposure may be multi-generational, is carcinogenic and may damage the adult reproductive and nervous systems. The plaintiffs also claimed to have suffered sub clinical, biochemical and sub cellular injuries, which have substantially increased their risk of chronic catastrophic disease. This settlement marks the first time that Monsanto or any of its affiliates have settled a case based upon plaintiffs’ allegations of personal injury.
Under a case management order issued by the court, nine “bellwether” plaintiffs were the proponents in this initial trial. In addition to personal injury, the claims of the first plaintiffs’ group included property devaluation and stigma allegations. Ms. Ruth Mims, the lead plaintiff in the case, testified about the environmental injustice imposed on the community beginning with its purchase of Schwann Chemicals in 1933 until it was forced to cleanup its contamination due to the community organizing, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s intervention and the lawsuit. Ms. Mims testified to how the community evolved around her father’s farm which was established some seventy-years ago. She spoke of the subsistence farm adjacent to Monsanto’s property with a stream traversing it into which Monsanto’s waste pipes emptied. Ms. Mims testified that milk cows, pigs and other livestock, owned by her father and other residents, drank from this contaminated stream, and that the members of the neighborhood ate these livestock and drank the milk from the milk cows. Ms. Mims remembered children swimming in the PCB ladened stream and the flooding in the neighborhood as water cascaded from the mountainside where the waste was stored, into the neighborhood.
As other residents moved into the neighborhood, churches and schools were constructed. Due to the segregated conditions of the South, generally, and Anniston, specifically, African-American children, including Ruth Mims, were forced to attend school in the meager, Spartan environment of the African-American Church schools in the contaminated neighborhood. Ms. Mims still lives in the house built by her father and in which she and her brothers and sisters were raised. The residents of Sweet Valley Cobbtown were hard working, God-fearing subsistence farmers that ate much of the food raised by them in the fertile soil, which was ironically irrigated by water from the stream contaminated with PCBs from the Monsanto facility.
Jack Matson, PhD., and Chairman of the Department of Environmental Engineering at Penn State University, testified concerning the pervasiveness of the PCB contamination in the Sweet Valley Cobbtown Community. He testified that not only were PCBs emanating from Monsanto’s contamination of the community stream, but also from the mountainside landfill, and volatilization of PCBs from its waste pond. Starting with the seminal production of PCBs by Monsanto in the early 1930s, Dr. Matson chronicled Monsanto’s production of the chemical and the storage of production waste products up gradient from the community on the side of an adjacent mountain. Dr. Matson also testified about Monsanto’s failure to inform the community of the dangers of the PCBs in their community despite empirical scientific evidence to the contrary. Dr. Matson further testified that unbeknownst to the community, Monsanto held high-level corporate meetings in which they discussed the propriety of extracting PCBs from the market in view of its liability and its potential loss of profits. According to Dr. Matson, Monsanto chose profit over notifying the community.
Several of the plaintiffs’ experts testified to specific causation for at least two of the plaintiffs both of whom happened to be children. David O. Carpenter, M.D., one of the plaintiffs experts, testified that it is more likely than not that PCB exposure in utero caused or contributed to causing one ten year old plaintiff’s neurodevelopmental deficits. This young plaintiff presently suffers from ADHD and cognitive impairment. He had been independently diagnosed with these conditions for several years.
Dr. Carpenter also testified that PCB exposure caused or contributed to causing Aubrey Mims’ hypertension, nervous system complaints and Cynthia Cunningham’s hypertension and elevated lipids all of which are manifest diseases.
In addition to the monetary damages for settlement of the personal injury claims, a portion of the settlement will be set aside for the relocation and property adjustment of certain properties owned by the Plaintiffs. None of these funds are to be used for general remediation purposes or projects or to pay for relocation/remediation expenses that Monsanto/Solutia is already obligated to pay under its agreement with the EPA.
Finally, a portion of the settlement will be allocated to a charitable foundation to be established by the Plaintiffs for health care and educational purpose. “This community will continue to be strong advocates of Environmental Justice concerns. We realize that the race is not given to the swift or to the strong but those that endure to the end,” said Roberts. “Our organization has become a strong voice to help educate and bring awareness about environmental problems in communities of color and poor white communities in Anniston and through out the state of Alabama and the United States,” She said. The case was handled by: William Thomas Jacks, Larry Wright, Laura Ruth, and Drew Wright, Mithoff & Jacks, Austin, TX; Robert E. Shields and Ralph Knowles, Doffermyre, Shields, Canfield, et al., Atlanta, GA; and Grover G. Hankins, Houston, TX.